The Connections Are Everything
Let's me be completely honest here.... I'm a total history nerd, and I'm proud of that. My fascination with history started with my favorite history teacher in high school, and continued through college and grad school, growing with each connection I made between past and present, between people and ideas. So, I was ridiculously excited last week to realize that I could teach history in the midst of my Current Events classes on Outschool.
As I made my way through my list of regular news sources, I began compiling details on the protests in Cuba and the presidential assassination in Haiti. Over and over, I found news outlets mentioning the United States. Haiti's acting Prime Minister asked for U.S. military assistance. The Cuban president blamed the U.S. embargo for shortages linked to the protests. I knew that for my students to get a better grasp of why the U.S. was being mentioned that we needed to go back into history.... way back.
First, we touched on the 1790 support of French plantation owners by the U.S. government, afraid that rebellions of enslaved people on the island now known as Haiti would spread to the U.S. mainland. The U.S. interest in stability in the Caribbean was directly related to fears about stability on the U.S. mainland. Then, it was a look at 1823 and an explanation of the Monroe Doctrine. Why had the president felt the need to claim the Western hemisphere as a U.S. "sphere of influence?" How had the rest of the world reacted?
Logically (follow me here), we then looked at the Spanish-American War, the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, and the eventual "Good Neighbor Policy." Each time, American foreign policy touched our hemispheric neighbors for a wide variety of reasons (some good, some not so much). The request last week, from Haiti, for help from U.S. troops came for much the same reason that President Wilson sent troops in 1915 (and those Marines stayed 20 years!). And then finally, we considered the Truman Doctrine and the policy of containment after World War II. To understand the current relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, you have to know about the Bay of Pigs, and about the Cuban Missile Crisis.
I've now helped students connect the present to the past in a way that is meaningful. The situations in Haiti, and in Cuba, are not just modern, isolated problems. Both are part of a ribbon of history stretching as far back as the founding of the U.S. Understanding current U.S. involvement and policy can only happen with that historical context.
This is why I love teaching Current Events - the connections are truly everything!